There are three things needed in order to make a great play – a cheese factory, a fundamentalist church and a community theater.
Granted, there are certainly plays that have done very well without any of these components, but for Lanford Wilson’s “Book of Days,” the character driven script deeply examines the people that fill their days around these three things.
Hayward’s Douglas Morrisson Theatre is taking on this piece, written back in 2000. The story follows a particularly vicious murder, one that puts community theater performer Ruth Hoch in the middle of the town’s new self-examination. Ruth is taking on the character of Joan of Arc on the stage. But she also doubles as the town’s martyr, placing herself squarely in the center of that examination.
“Wilson’s work is so incredibly diverse, and really captures Middle America,” said the show’s director Dale Albright. “There are these fringy, sort of quirky characters throughout the script.”
The play can be compared to Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” in that it breaks down the nuances of the town’s residents, a collection of simple yet interesting folks. Because of this murder, the fictional town of Dublin Missouri is forced to look at their own values as residents align themselves with each of the aforementioned specific institutions of the town.
“It’s kind of an epic play, a slice of Americana in rural Missouri with a lot of elements to it,” said Albright. “Saying it’s a murder mystery sells it a bit short, but it’s a lot about what church life means in Middle America.”
Albright is certainly interested in the play not only structurally but also as a societal exercise. Church communities in small towns in the Midwest take on a completely different dynamic than in a place considered more cosmopolitan. In these towns, church dominates everyday life, and while Wilson, who was raised in Missouri, respects that, he is not shy to bring forth what he might feel is some stances that do not align with a church’s stated mission.
“Wilson is an authentic voice to the church of that area, and he definitely confronts the hypocrisy of the church,” said Albright. “Doing this show is a rare insight into church life in those areas for most folks in the Bay Area, I suspect.”
What Albright and his creative team worked hard to do is bring forth a show that is rich and authentic in the area of soundscapes. Creating the sound of the play, considering the cast is on stage the entire time, was of the utmost importance. Albright has spent much time on this detail.
“We paid a lot of attention to capture the music style of that region, and we’ve spent a lot of time finding ways that non-musically trained actors can perform music with body acoustics and ambient sound,” said Albright.
The cast Albright speaks of is very small, only 12. But those 12 have been great to work with, and Albright has certainly enjoyed the glee they have taken on in order to jump into their work head on. They have come from all over the Bay Area to perform in a play written by the late Wilson, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a literary heavyweight.
“The cast is a pretty experienced group who has done a lot of their own independent research,” said Albright. “Many of the cast members are new to the company, and I’m not sure why, but this play seems to attract folks from a pretty wide, geographical range.
“It’s kind of interesting that actors would make the trek to be in this play because it’s a huge commitment to make.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
The Douglas Morrisson Theatre presents “Book of Days”
Written by Lanford Wilson
Directed by Dale Albright
Through June 12th
The Douglas Morrison Theatre
22311 N Third Street, Hayward, CA
Tickets range from $21 – $32
For Tickets, call (510) 881-6777 or visit dmtonline.org